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F-94 Starfire crew chief has fond memories of service
Dean Ottmar never intended on serving his country. But when asked to, he did.
Ottmar, 84, who lives in Silverdale, was the crew chief for an F-94 Starfire, a fighter jet that served in Korea.
“I didn’t want to fight,” he said. “That’s not the kind of person I am. So when the draft came up, I enlisted in the Air National Guard.”
While some men he knew were leaving for Canada to avoid the draft, he went to Geiger Air Field in Spokane, nearby his hometown of Clarkston, Washington, just across the Snake River from Lewiston, Idaho. He was a member of the 116th fighter-interceptor squadron.
He’d graduated from Lewis and Clark High School in 1948, and he’d gone to Washington State University for a year. And he was ready for whatever the Air National Guard threw at him.
“In boot camp, I was about the one guy who’d never been a Boy Scout or anything like that,” he said. “I didn’t even know how to march like they do in the service. So they taught me.”
Once he was finished with boot camp in Spokane, he was chose to go to Chanute Field in Chicago to learn how to overhaul jet plane engines.
“Of our whole group, there was only five or six of us who were chose to go to Chicago,” he said.
He explained that at the time, the Korean War was underway and the Russians had given China jet fighter planes. Those aircraft were sent into Korea and the U.S. needed a hot squadron to counteract them.
While he was in Chicago learning his trade, the rest of his unit was sent to England to take care of the U.S. jet fighter planes that were fighting in Korea.
“So I didn’t get to go to England,” he said. “I always felt like I missed out on that.”
Instead, he was next sent to Hamilton Air Base in California where he was a mechanic on U.S. Air Guard planes. In all, he served 21 months, and then four years in the reserves.
Following California, he was sent to Moses Lake, Washington, where he was discharged in 1952.
“In Moses Lake, I was given a plane to take care of,” he said. “The plane was painted with the Ace of Spades, the symbol of the Air National Guard. And my name was painted on it, too.”
While in the service, he was given special accommodations for getting the highest grade in the aircraft jet engine mechanics course, from Lt. Col. Edgar E. Snyder, commanding the 334th technical training group at Chanute Air Force Base.
There was something else special about Ottmar’s service. At the time he signed up, he was married and had a son.
Right out of high school, Ottmar married his high school sweetheart, Lois.
“I chased him until I caught him,” Lois said. “We grew up in the same neighborhood and I knew he was the one for me.”
That neighborhood was called the Vinegar Flats, after an old vinegar works that had previously been on the land.
Ottmar was raised by his mother from the age of four. His father died in a grain elevator accident. His mother’s family had homesteaded in the Chuweela, Washington area and at one time his mother and father had a “filling station” before they lost it during the Depression.
A photo of he and his parents standing in front of the station hangs on his dinning room wall of Ottmar’s home.
His mother taught school in a one-room school house and according to Ottmar, helped him to be the “easy going” guy he still is today.
Dean and Lois moved with the Air Guard to California and then back to Moses Lake. Times were tough.
“I didn’t get paid very much,” he said. “Sometimes by the end of the month, a group of us would go out in the fields and steal watermelons and that’s all we’d have to eat for several days.”
They had three children, Roger, born in 1951, Steve, born in 1952, and Kay, born in 1957. All three live close by in Silverdale, Renton and Lynwood, and the couple has four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Following his military service, the family moved back to the Clarkston. Dean worked 30 years for Alta Vista, the local gas company, checking lines, reading and replacing meters, and adjusting pressure in the main lines.
His wife worked for the Clarkston School District. They retired in 1989. The couple continued to live in the Spokane area until just two years ago, when they moved to Silverdale to be closer to family. Dean had suffered a stroke and together the couple decided they needed to live in a retirement community where they could have some assistance when needed.
At Country Meadows, they have their own cottage and they eat with other residents at the “barn” every evening. They take some classes and they go on day trips in the community bus.
As for what Dean is the most proud of, it’s his family.
“We’ve raised three wonderful kids,” he said. “We’ve been able to travel. All in all, I’d say we’ve had a pretty good life.”